Volunteer Voice: Jeff Wyatt

The final post in our Volunteer Appreciation Month series! An interview with Jeff Wyatt, who has been a donor, volunteer, and Board Member at Health In Harmony - someone that we are so thankful to have in this organization. His unique journey with Health in Harmony is a testament to his commitment to a healthy planet with healthy people. Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Darya Minovi: How did you hear about Health In Harmony?

Jeff Wyatt: I first heard about Health In Harmony from our amazing docents at the Seneca Park Zoo. They had seen Hotlin’s presentation at the ZACC conference that year and she made an amazing impression on them. Our docents were super motivated to advance the conservation programming at Seneca Park, so they said to me, “We as a zoo MUST support Health In Harmony.” And our docents are always right.


DM: How did your initial support turn into a full on commitment to the program?

JW: In 2012, we decided that our zoo needed to play a bigger role in international conservation programming, so I determined that we should prioritize Health In Harmony since we are the only zoo in New York that has orangutans. That December, I visited Sukadana and Gunung Palung National Park for the first time. On this trip, we realized that there was an opportunity to further the program in a sustainable way.

So we developed a plan to create a herd health mentoring program. Andrew Winterborn (a vet from Queen's University in Canada) and I went to Sukadana in November 2013 and with assistance from Etty and Erica held two 1-day workshops to radically listen to farmers and widows. We wanted to know what their priorities were for advancing herd health. Together, we generated a list and identified anemia and overgrown hooves as major problems. One of the best parts about this was that we learned from the widows and farmers, particularly the herbal treatments they were employing to treat the animals. It was a two-way learning experience!

After the training, we brought Jili and Ibu Setiawati in to show them how to collect data on anemia, body condition, and hoof health. We also helped them implement program changes like hoof trimming, having more fresh water available, and exercise for the livestock.


DM: So, what were the results after all this training?

JW: Well, in February 2015 we came back and helped Ibu Setiawati and Jili do another herd health assessment. We were so impressed with the improvements in body condition and blood parameters - just through very simple husbandry changes. We also invited the ASRI clinic staff and volunteers to join us. At the University of Rochester, our focus is "One Medicine-One Health" which looks at the intersection between human health, habitat health, and animal health. Having the clinic staff with us helped open their horizons to this connection.


DM: Now that you've just returned from your 4th trip, how were the goats doing this time around?

JW: This time, we found that all the goats were reaching well beyond one year of age. We also calculated that widows and farmers are generating much more revenue than ever per goat! We kept asking everyone, are your goats in good condition? The answer was a unanimous yes, which was not the case on our previous trips.

There were 24 additional widows added to the program since last year and there was more evidence of widows managing a breeding herd of goats, with oversight from Ibu Setiawati. Some widows has as many as nine goats! We also saw two homes that had beautiful new roofs that were paid for by selling a goat.

On this trip, it was clear that we are "irrelevant" now. Ibu Setiawati and Jili are collecting data, well-equipped, and are now training others. My personal goal was to ensure that this program is sustainable, which it clearly is.


DM: It sounds like your work here is done! Do you plan on going back?

JW: We are definitely going back, but I love the idea that we aren't that necessary anymore. Moving forward, we will be focusing on assisting instead of mentoring. What we are looking at now is instead of using medicine for deworming goats, we've reviewed the literature and have seen that papaya seeds are effective. Otherwise, I hope we can replicate this program to another area or significantly expand the herd health program to a larger area around Sukadana.


DM: Aside from your contributions at  ASRI, how are you supporting these projects from the US?

JW: At the University of Rochester, we send one physician per year to volunteer at ASRI. This year, we held a fundraiser to buy urgently needed medical supplies for the ASRI Clinic. Health Partners International of Canada puts together boxes of medical supplies targeted for the tropics. The boxes are worth $7,000, but it cost us $400 to buy. So, the medical students sold "Orangutan Orange" tulips to fundraise, and we sold out within an hour!


DM: You also recently joined our Board of Directors! What do you hope to bring to the organization now that you're more directly involved?

JW: What I plan to bring to the Board is expanded financial opportunities be engaging additional conservation partners, specifically from zoos and aquariums that are more committed than ever to save animals from extinction. I'm also doing a presentation at AZA and it's all about Health In Harmony. People usually hear about conservationists going into a community, changing something, then leaving. But this holistic approach: looking at a community, environment, people, and the habitat is a story that captures the attention of zoo and aquarium guests and leadership.


DM: And how would you like to see Health In Harmony grow?

JW: I would like to see us scale-up this program. I think it's very important that we demonstrate by example so that other programs can replicate our work in other parts of the world. One thing we are doing is publishing the results from our herd health mentoring program to reach other vets.

I also want to replicate what we've learned in Sukadana in my own community. I love the mantra of radical listening, and in Rochester there is a lot of poverty. One of the projects I'm working on is the sturgeon reintroduction program, so we'll be working with a refugee population near our fish release site. We hope to have them involved in the program and also raise awareness about health concerns around eating fish from the Great Lakes each day.


DM: From volunteering at ASRI to fundraising in Rochester, you are truly involved in every aspect of this organization. What draws you to Health In Harmony?

JW: I see this program as an effective way of saving orangutans from extinctions. I know the orangutans at our zoo - I've even known one for 30 years! These orangutans play an incredibly important role in connecting our guests with this organization. And as far as vets go, orangutans really like me! I care so much about their future as a species, and I see Health In Harmony as a very effective way to serve the greater good for orangutans, humans, and the forest.


DM: Any last thoughts?

JW: My last night at ASRI, we had a celebration recognizing all of the volunteers and staff. It felt like a family celebrating goats and each other. I think that was a wonderful grand finale, we had a sunset party at the hotel. It was a beautiful experience that really emphasized to me what a great family of colleagues supporting this collective mission is.


About Jeff Wyatt, DVM, MPH, DACLAM

Jeff is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Comparative Medicine at the University of Rochester and is the Director of Wildlife Health and Conservation at Seneca Park Zoo. He has been to ASRI four times through his herd-health mentorship program and now serves on Health In Harmony's Board of Directors.


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